Despite concerted efforts by local dog lovers, there's still absolutely no place in Los Angeles County to take your dog to swim in the sea. The nearest legal dog beaches are in Long Beach or Huntington Beach.
So, it was with great excitement that I signed up after being asked if I'd like to bring my 16-month-old Golden Retriever, Bronte, to check out indoor swimming pools at both in Culver City, and Two Hands Four Paws in West L.A.
Doggie Central just installed a brand new indoor pool called Splash Central and . Two Hands Four Paws' indoor pool has been around for a while, but the facility is first and foremost a physical therapy and rehab place for dogs. However, they have just launched free swim days on the first and third Sunday of each month for all dogs.
Bronte has only been to the beach once. I took her to Huntington Dog Beach when she was five months old and she spent most of that time running in the sand and avoiding the water's edge. While she loves water from a tap, or a wading pool, or the shower, or even running in puddles and catching rain drops, she's never encountered a vast body of water. After having foot surgery last summer, I was unable to drive or walk for three months, so I missed the opportunity to introduce her to beach swimming. The only other large body of water she had encountered until this weekend was Big Bear Lake, which she eyed with trepidation and spent most of her time barking at.
So I was very excited to head to both Doggie Central and Two Hands Four Paws this weekend and see what they had to offer. First stop was Doggie Central. Faith Mantooth was busy herding several dogs in and out of the 35 x 12 x 4 ft pool with her assistant, Eddie. There was a lot of noise, a lot of barking dogs and a lot of splashing around.
Bronte and I waited in a holding area with a couple of other dogs while Faith and her assistant finished working with another dog, which seemed to be having a whale of a time in the water. Sessions are 15 minutes, which makes sense especially as the water relies solely on solar heat and the water was definitely quite cold when we were there.
Bronte was fitted with a life vest while we waited and when it was her turn, I led her up some narrow wooden steps with rubber on them (to prevent slipping).
Bronte did not enter the pool gladly. She was definitely wary of such a vast body of water. Faith helped her into the water down a ramp while holding onto her jacket. Bronte immediately crashed and splashed around and as soon as she arrived at the opposite side of the pool where there was a larger platform, she'd decided she had had enough and ran around looking for the gate to leave. Coaxed by Faith back into the water, she splashed and crashed as fast as she could back to the side where I was waiting for her. Despite being offered balls and bumpers to chase into the water, Bronte was having none of it and was thrilled to be back on dry land.
After getting out of the pool, an assistant was on hand to help blow dry the dogs, but Bronte was too hyped up to stand around for the dryer. I'd brought towels so rubbed her down with those. Bronte received a Doggie Central goodie bag to take home that included treats (Bronte approved), and a plastic beach ball, which she promptly ripped to shreds when we got home.
Faith suggested that maybe she wasn't a "water dog" after all and I was worried Bronte had let down both her breeder (her doggie parents are superb swimmers) and the whole Golden Retriever breed! On the plus side, Bronte slept the whole afternoon, she was so exhausted.
On Sunday, we headed off to Two Hands, Four Paws where we were asked to bring a letter from Bronte's vet stating she was fit and healthy to swim, and a copy of her vaccination records, showing she was up to date on all her shots.
Once at the facility, Bryan McMahon, whose wife Leslie owns and runs Two Hands Four Paws, showed us round the therapy center. Large, clean and beautifully maintained, we saw an amazing water treadmill, soft mats and incredible state-of-the-art equipment to help dogs with all kinds of ailments. There was also a puppy class going on in one enclosed area.
The area was quiet with no other dogs around. Bryan hosed down Bronte before and after the session explaining that it was important to do both to ensure the dog was clean, make sure she was hydrated enough before entering the pool and to remove any of the salt from her body that was in the lightly salinated pool. The pool temperature is a balmy 83 degrees at all times. I dipped my fingers in to confirm.
The pool is 15,000 gallons, is 4'8'' deep and has custom built ramp and resting platforms inside the pool itself.
Bryan also fitted Bronte with a floatation vest with a leash attached to a loop in the back, which he used to help her swim. Bronte immediately ran up the sturdy rubber ramp. For her it's similar to the A-Frame she has learned to run up in agility training. However, once at the top, when she saw the pool, she wasn't so sure. Bryan carefully picked her up and carried her into the water with him and held her tight against him, talking to her the whole time until she calmed down and he felt she was ready to try and swim. He held on to her for several minutes, before letting her go. She crashed and splashed much as she did at Doggie Central, but Bryan didn't give up on her. He kept holding her and coaxing her and after 15 minutes she was swimming with grace and ease.
Bryan, too, tried throwing a tennis ball for Bronte (her favorite thing), and to the surprise of both of us, she ran down the ramp and leapt through the air, flopped into the water and swam right after the ball and brought it back. Suddenly, after barely 15 minutes, she was swimming like the true Golden Retriever she was bred to be. I'm sure her doggie parents Katie and Macallan back in Colorado would have been proud.
Once out of the pool and after her second hose down, Bronte rolled around the floor in glee and showered Bryan with affection. He also made sure to give her a large bowl of water. She was very thirsty after her 20 minutes in the pool. And she also slept very well on Sunday night.
Two Hands, Four Paws offers swim time for dogs on the first and third Sunday of each month between 12 and 2 p.m. Sessions are 30 minutes each, cost $30 payable by cash or check only, and you must sign up in advance.
Splash Central offers a variety of classes. Swimming 101 - a series of 4 classes is $100 (no information on class length); Beginning Swim is $40 for the first session and a "fun swim" session is $30 for 30 minutes and $15 for an additional dog. There are also dock diving classes for $35.
Check out the videos and photos of Bronte in her swimming sessions at Splash Central and Two Hands Four Paws to the right of this article.
Splash Central is located at 11818 Teale St., Culver City, 90230. Tel: 310-390-3645.